Top 10 Questions to Ask a Car Accident Witness
Car accidents are unfortunately a daily fact of life in Las Vegas. But although Vegas may be in the middle of a desert, it is also a highly trafficked urban area. This means that a large percentage of car accidents occur along busy intersections and streets where there may be multiple witnesses who saw what happened..
If you have been injured in a Vegas car accident, it is a good idea to identify as many witnesses as possible while you are still at the scene. Not every witness will have useful information, of course. But even one or two witnesses can prove invaluable when presenting a claim to an insurance company or seeking damages from the negligent driver.
At the scene, you may not be in the best position to gather much information beyond the names and contact information for the witnesses. This is okay. After you have tended to your immediate injuries, you can always go back and speak with the witnesses later, so long as you know how to contact them. Ideally, you should work with a qualified Las Vegas personal injury attorney who has experience in questioning witnesses.
Every accident is unique. But there are some basic questions you should keep in mind should you have the opportunity to question a witness right away. Here are 10 of the more common questions we have found useful:
- Can You Explain–in Your Own Words–What You Saw?
It is always a good idea to start with an open-ended question that invites the witness to provide as much detail as possible. You do not want to ask a leading question like, “Did you see the other driver hit me?”, as that may put the witness on the defensive or make them feel like you’re fishing for a particular answer. It is better to let the witness establish their own narrative before asking any more specific follow-up questions.
- What Were You Doing Just Before the Accident?
Many witnesses did not have their undivided attention focused on an accident at the exact moment of impact. It is therefore important to establish the context of the witness’ observations. If the witness was distracted by something else and only turned to look after hearing a crash, their testimony may not be of much value to you. But if the witness was driving a car located right behind you at the moment of the accident, he or she may have had a front-row view of everything that occurred in the moments before the impact.
You also need to determine just how clear a view the witness had of the accident. This can vary substantially from witness-to-witness based on a number of factors. Ask the witness if there were any vehicles, buildings, or obstructions that were in their line of vision to the accident. Also take note of the time of day and weather conditions. A witness will not have the same degree of visibility in the bright midday Vegas sun as during the early morning hours. And if it was raining at the time of the accident–admittedly, a rare occurrence in this part of the world–that can also affect what a witness saw.
- Where Were You in Relation to the Accident?
Again, not every witness was in the best position to accurately describe an accident. You need to establish where each witness was located just before and during the crash. If you have identified multiple witnesses who were located at different positions relative to the accident, that can be helpful in reconstructing the accident scene as a whole.
When asking a witness about their location, seek as many specifics as possible. Do not just ask “how far away” they were. Also ask about whether they were closer to one driver, and whether they were in a position to observe any traffic signals or other vehicles involved. If possible, you may even want to sketch out a rough diagram of the intersection or accident scene and ask the witness to mark their approximate location.
- Can You Go Into Greater Detail About What You Saw?
You actually will not ask this exact question in this precise manner. Instead, based on the witness’ own narrative and the other answers you obtained, you should tailor follow-up questions designed to nail down specific details. Obviously, the exact questions will vary based on the kind of accident and the number of vehicles involved. But here are a few examples of follow-up questions you might need to ask:
- Could you describe the general position of each car prior to the accident, i.e. who was in what lane?
- Did you see either vehicle serving or moving erratically?
- Could you determine how fast the vehicles were traveling, i.e. did any of the drivers appear to be speeding?
- Did you see or hear either driver attempt to brake suddenly?
- How much time elapsed between the first sign of trouble and the actual impact?
- Did you notice the traffic signals just before the accident? Did either driver run a red light or speed through a yellow light at an unsafe speed?
- Did you observe any other kind of traffic infraction, such as an improper lane change or an illegal U-turn?
- Did you observe any damage that was not apparent to the drivers, such as debris that may have flown off the car?
- Did you observe the other driver following the accident? Did he or she appear to be injured or intoxicated? Did he or she say anything?
- What Did You Do After the Accident?
Even if a witness did not see the events leading up to a crash, they may still be useful in helping to reconstruct what happened immediately afterwards. For instance, if the other driver fled the scene, the witness may have taken notice of the car’s make and model–and ideally, snapped a picture of the license plate with their phone. If the witness also called 911 or attempted to assist you at the scene, that can demonstrate how serious the witness thought the accident might be.
- Did You See Any Other Witnesses Who Might Have More Information?
Sometimes, the best thing a witness can do is provide you with leads to other witnesses who were in a better position to see what happened. Also keep in mind, a good number of people in Las Vegas are tourists rather than residents. Many of these witnesses may not be available later if you need them to testify at trial. So the more people you can identify as potential witnesses at the outset, the better. And make sure you take down contact information for any potential witnesses identified, as you may not be able to speak with everyone right away.
- Do You Know Anyone Involved in the Accident?
We all have our own biases. If a family member or friend is involved in an accident, we naturally sympathize with their position. For this reason, you should always ask a witness if they have any relationship to the other drivers or parties involved in the accident. Sometimes this will be obvious–i.e., the witness was a passenger in the other driver’s vehicle. But some relationships are not immediately obvious, so it never hurts to ask.
- Do You Have Any Expertise That May Be Relevant?
Once again, not all witnesses are equally valuable. A teenager talking on their phone may not be as helpful when it comes to reconstructing the events leading up to an accident as, say, an off-duty police officer with years of accident experience who just happened to be in the car behind you.
- Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Just as you should always start with an open-ended question, it is a good idea to end with an open-ended question. Oftentimes during the course of a conversation, we recall details that did not spring to mind right away. And no matter how thorough and detailed your own questioning may be, there are always points you may have neglected to bring up. So before you let your witness go, ask a general follow-up to see if there’s any other detail they think might be relevant to your accident.
- Can I Have Your Contact Information If I Need to Get in Touch With You Again?
This is perhaps the most important question. Even if you get everything you think you might need from a witness at the scene of the accident, there will always be some need for additional follow-up in the future. For example, your lawyer or insurance company may want confirmation of the witness’ account. Or the witness may later recall something that may be important. And as mentioned above, many people who see car accidents in Las Vegas do not live in Nevada. This further emphasizes the importance of getting accurate contact information for any witnesses.
What Not to Ask a Witness
Just as important as knowing what questions to ask a witness following a car accident is knowing what not to ask. For instance, never ask a witness for second- or third-hand accounts of what happened. Make sure the witness only tells you what they personally saw. If a witness tells you, “Well I didn’t see the accident, but my friend did…”, that is not helpful to your case. It might be useful to locate and speak to the friend, but anything the witness tells you in this context is little more than gossip–or in legal terms “hearsay,” which is usually inadmissible in a court of law.
Also make sure the witness does not engage in speculation that goes outside their own knowledge and expertise. Be wary of answer that begins with “I think…”, since that indicates the witness does not know what he or she saw. You do not need the witness’ opinion of what might (or might not) have happened.
It is also a good idea whenever possible to ask the witness to write down their observations and then sign and date the paper. This is not the same thing as a notarized affidavit or a statement made under oath in court. But a signed, dated writing can be useful in helping to establish the credibility of a witness in a later formal proceeding. Conversely, if the witness suddenly changes their account of what happened, the signed statement may be useful in undermining their credibility.
For example, let’s say you are in an accident with another driver at a busy intersection. A witness tells you at the scene that he saw the other driver run a red light and enter the intersection prematurely. But several months later during a deposition in your personal injury lawsuit against the other driver, the witness suddenly claims he saw you enter the intersection first while making an illegal left turn. If you took the time to obtain a written statement at the scene, that evidence can show the witness is either lying in the deposition or is simply unreliable. Either way you can protect yourself.
Get Help From an Experienced Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney
Of course, for many accident victims, it is simply not feasible to track down and interview multiple witnesses right after the crash took place. Indeed, if you are the person involved in the accident, you may be too physically injured or emotionally traumatized to do much of anything beyond seeking medical attention. That is why it is important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Las Vegas following any type of accident.
At Naqvi Injury Law, we know how to locate and properly question witnesses. More importantly, we know how to identify which witnesses are credible and can help you to build the strongest possible case against a negligent driver. So if you have been in an accident and need legal assistance, call us today at (702) 803-3092 to speak with a local attorney now. Naqvi Injury Law never charges accident victims upfront fees, so there is no cost just to sit down and talk with us.